Monday, November 25, 2013

Treat or Trick

On Halloween, I stayed at the house, while my husband went around the neighborhood with my daughter and some of her friends. They were the first trick-or-treaters to arrive at our house, and I could hear their excited chatter as they came up the steps. I was a little bit nervous. I wanted to greet them with the right mix of warmth, surprise, and admiration. I was also nervous about spilling the candy, taking too long to open the door, or tripping on the rug.

The doorbell rang. I opened the door, I mustered my enthusiasm and and said,

"Trick or treat!"

The children looked at me. I looked at the children. After a moment's hesitation, the children dug in to the candy bowl. As the children started to file back down the stairs, my daughter looked at me.

"Mom, you don't have to say 'treat-or-treat,'" she said coldly, without waiting for my response before leaving.

Did she understand that the aphasia that made me say the wrong thing, I wondered? Or is she already feeling that all moms are clueless, anyways?

I closed the door. Under my breath, I said: "Happy Halloween! Happy Halloween! Happy Halloween! Happy Halloween!"

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Sports Fan

I've never been into teams sports, to put it mildly. So my husband has been flabbergasted that I watched at least part of each game of the World Series.

I watched partly because it's harder to have fun with my kids since the stroke--I can't ride a bike, or go skating, for instance--so cuddling with my kids in front of the TV suddenly seems like a great option. Also, I keep reading that learning something new is good for your brain, so learning the rules of baseball at the age of 49 must be great for my cognitive skills, right?  (It's also entertaining for my husband, who still can't believe the depths of my ignorance about the national pastime.)

But the biggest reason why I kept watching because I have been mesmerized by the twisting, turning movements of the players, especially the pitchers. The movements were beautiful. These days I get so focused on the mechanics of walking that I sometimes I forget about all the other movements a body can make, even a non-athlete body. Even I used to be able twist my body to vacuum in a corner, or turn suddenly to chase a child, I keep thinking.

I want to work more on my twisting and turning muscles. Inspiration lurks in funny places.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

What I've Been Doing Lately

Recently I haven't been posting a lot. Here are some of the things I've been doing, instead of blogging:

making dinner - some grocery shopping - taking my son to piano lessons and nagging him to practice - looking over the kids' homework - driving myself into the city once a week to go to a class for people who have aphasia - driving once a week to the YMCA to work out - shopping for clothes for the kids and myself - organizing four years of photos - walking to school to pick up the kids four days a week - scheduling various medical, dental, and other appointments - trying to play piano for 20 minutes a day - managing social calendars for myself and the kids - writing emails - doing yoga on the living room floor

Compared to most people--especially if they have a job--my life unfolds at a slow pace. But it's a huge jump from my activity level a year ago, and I'm very pleased about that. I do wish, though, that I didn't feel exhausted all the time.

Thursday, September 12, 2013


Yesterday I was trying to hold my water glass with my affected arm at dinner time.

Maybe it was a slip of concentration. Maybe there was  a bit of water on the outside of the glass, making it slippery. Maybe it just was one of those things that could have happened to anyone.

As my hand was inching up to my mouth, the glass slipped onto the table with a loud bang. There was also the noise of splashing water everywhere--the table, my plate, the floor.

"ARE YOU OK?" asked my husband loudly, with panic in his voice.

"I'm fine," I said, "I'm fine. It just slipped."

My husband has always had a strong startle reflex, but he reacted as if a bomb went off.  He started rushing around--getting a dish cloth, barking orders to the kids, mopping up the spilled water as if his life depended on it. The kids were amused at the commotion.

We didn't talk to the kids about the reasons why their dad reacted so strongly to the glass slipping through my hand. We didn't even talk about it between two of us, this time, because we both knew what he had been thinking: that I was having a seizure, or worse.

My husband has been heroic through these years of the stroke, seizure, and recovery. But like most heroes, he has scars, and heightened reflexes.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

How The Brain Works

Our seven-year-old daughter was working on a drawing a few days ago. It was a diagram of the brain:

How The Brain Really Works

She had color-coded each part of the brain in the drawing, and she explained to my husband and me how it all works:

Pink -   Separate World ("Seperate World")-- i.e., imagination. Everyone can have a separate world, she told us. You can decide the color of your separate world. My daughter's world, of course, is pink.

Green - Silly Beans. Everyone is born with 1,000,000 silly beans. After birth, you start losing them. Between the ages of 4 to 7, you have 1,800 (or at least, I think--her calculations were too complicated for me to follow). At this stage of life, my husband has 900; I have only 700 silly beans left.

Lines and Dots  - Files. Most of the space in your brain, she told us, is occupied by files. 

Red -  Blood  ("Blud")

Blue - Thinking. Note the size of the part of the brain that is devoted to thinking.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Lost and Found: Performance Anxiety

I'm still finding parts of myself that went missing after the stroke.

For instance, a few weeks ago, I was watching Nova. Some of the program was about test anxiety, and it showed nervous students taking a test. As I watched the show and tried to put myself into the students' shoes, I realized I could barely remember that feeling of performance anxiety. Before the stroke, any of these situations--taking a test, or speaking in public, or even thinking about some students taking a test on a TV show--would have gotten my heart rate up.

It's not that I don't feel anxiety sometimes now. But more often, it feel like I have a switch with two settings: crushing fear, or a strange calmness. In the few times I have had to speak in front of a group since the stroke, I haven't felt much of performance anxiety.

I'm sure there are many reasons why I feel calmer these days. First of all, a disabling stroke can put things into perspective. Or it might be medications. Or that after failing so many tests of language and physical ability, I'm used to failure now. Or it might be because I started out not being able to recite the alphabet or spell my name, so any achievement can make me feel like a wunderkind. But mostly, it feels like parts of my brain are still not hooked up the way they used to be.

Given how much I have struggled with performance anxiety all my life, you would think that I would be happy to leave behind that part of myself now. But I remember some of my discussions with my former piano teacher. I studied with her for many years before the stroke, and she helped me work through my anxiety a lot. She talked how important it is to be meticulously prepared. But she also talked about how anxiety can make a performance more focused: without some anxiety, a performance can loose its edge.

So I keep thinking: do I want this part of myself back? Do I need to regain that anxiety? Do I have a choice?

Friday, June 21, 2013

June Is National Aphasia Awareness Month

June is National Aphasia Awareness month. 

Here in Massachusetts, there will be the first Aphasia Awareness Day at the State House on Thursday, June 27. If you live in Massachusetts, please join us between 11am and 2pm to raise awareness about this communication disorder. The event will include information about resources for people who are living with aphasia and their families and friends. For more information, see Justice 4 Aphasia. Many thanks to Karen Kelly for making this happen.

This might be obvious, but I'll say it anyways: these kinds of events are important because so many people who have aphasia cannot speak (or write or read) for themselves--and people who can't speak for themselves can't get the services they desperately need.

For people who don't live in Massachusetts or can't join us at the State House, there is a growing number of online resources for people who are affected by aphasia. A good place to start is the National Aphasia Association and its directory of  support groups and centers that offer speech therapy and courses. Also, if you are on Facebook, there are also at least two pages that are great places to connect with other people who have aphasia and their caregivers: Aphasia Recovery Connection and Living Successfully With Aphasia (sorry, I don't know how to link to a Facebook page).

Saturday, June 8, 2013

I'm a Spaz

When I was in junior high, whenever a friend did something clumsy, awkward, or funny, we would laugh and say,

"Don't be a spaz!"

I think I vaguely knew that the word "spaz" came from "spastic," but I had no idea what spasticity actually meant. Until, of course, I was afflicted with this uncomfortable condition myself.

Looking back, one of the people who probably suffered from spasticity was a kid in my class who had spina bifida, or maybe cerebral palsy. He used crutches and his legs looked like they hadn't grown enough. Other than noticing his awkward gait, I didn't think about him at all. My top--and only--priority in junior high was to fit in.

There was also an adult in our neighborhood who probably had spasticity. He walked into the town center every day with a lopsided gait. I'm guessing that he also had Tourette's syndrome, because he also used to mutter curses, and jerk with uncontrollable tics. "He's harmless," my mother would reassure me, if I encountered him on my walk home.

A few weeks ago when I was walking, I had a good view of my shadow. I was trying to walk fast, which makes my spasticity more noticeable. I was swinging my right arm, and with each step I could see my shadow arm moving in jerky, awkward movements, like a wind-up toy losing steam.

At first I was amused by my spastic shadow. I was even tempted to spew curses, just to see reactions of passers-by.

Then I thought: please god, help me walk normally before my children start junior high.

(For the record: I believe I also have apraxia, which contributes to the awkward look of my movements. Like many stroke survivors, I have a cluster of conditions.)

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Challenge 8: Returning the Panic Button

After my one and only seizure--which happened about six months after the stroke--my family arranged to get me a LifeLine button, in case I had some other emergency and no one was home to help me or the kids.

It has been very helpful. I've never actually needed to use it in the almost three years I've had it, but it has put my fears at ease when I'm alone at the house. I'm guessing that it's been just as helpful as talk therapy to address my fears, and more cost-effective.

But as I get more and more mobile, I knew that it didn't make sense to keep it. I'm driving on average four days a week, sometimes with kids in tow. I'm on a low  dose of anti-seizure medication. LifeLine is is cheaper than psychotherapy, but still expensive.

So my last challenge was to make arrangements to surrender my LifeLine equipment. I called them last week to tell them I don't need it now, and on Monday, I packed up the equipment, drove to the hospital that rents the equipment, and turned it in. Other than the fact that it was tricky to juggle my cane and also haul the stuff in a bag through the long hospital hallway, it went smoothly.

I wish I could say that I feel relieved. But the fact is, I'm still scared a lot. I wish I could have some implanted (and free) device that would call 9-1-1 if fell or had a sudden change of brain wave activity. At least now my fear is usually is sort of a low-level anxiety, rather than a stop-you-in-your-tracks panic.

When I told my kids that I had returned the "panic button" and the intercom, my kids were surprised. My daughter was disappointed that she couldn't test it one more time. My son smiled, and gave me a big hug.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Challenge 7: Remembering Piano

Not long after I came back from Spaulding, I sat down at my piano. I wasn't sure if I could play anything at all, but I tried to think of the piano as a therapy tool--both physical and cognitive.

From time to time, I've been going through my sheet music for my favorite pieces. With some pieces, I've tried to pick out the notes. Sometimes I listen to recordings and follow along with the sheet music. Other times I just listen.

But there was one piece that I couldn't find in my music books, and I also don't have a recording. It was a slow Scott Joplin piece called "Solace" that I've been playing by memory since middle school, and it was one of my show-off pieces. But when I tried playing even a few notes by memory, I couldn't. My left hand waited for cues from my right hand, while my right hand sat on the keyboard, useless as a dead fish.

So my challenge was to drive to the music store, track down the music, and hopefully pick out some of the melody, in any way possible. After thumbing through anthologies, I found the song. To my dismay, the music didn't look like anything I remembered. Did I confuse the name of the piece? Were my music-reading skills affected by the stroke even more than I realized?

I was never the most talented pianist, but that was beside the point. I loved making music. And now one more piece of myself was lost. This really sucks, I said to myself.

I bought the music book anyway. When I came home I googled "Solace," and found a video clip of someone playing the piece. Halfway through the clip, I recognized it. It was "Solace." But I had always skipped the first two movements, and even forgotten they existed. And I don't think it had anything to do with the stroke.

Afterwards, I tried to play a few lines. It didn't sound much like music, and I'm not sure it ever will. But at least I now can tell you: I used to play this Scott Joplin song called "Solace" for decades; I always skipped the first two movements; and that was part of who I was.

Here's a post by Marcelle Greene about ragtime and stroke. Here's a video clip of a performance of "Solace" (with a lot fewer mistakes, of course, than I used to to make. The parts I used to play start at 3:37).

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Challenge 6: The Mall

I drove to the mall for the first time. I went in, had a sandwich, and went home.

I've never been that much into shopping, especially at the mall. I'm not, in general, a triumphant shopper. And over the last three years, I've gotten really good at ordering things online.

And yet, going to the mall--either alone or with my kids--is one of these ordinary experiences I wanted to try. Not because I enjoy it that much, but because of all the other things in it that make me feel like a semi-competent adult. Dealing with traffic, parking, food, crowds, fast-talking sales people--it's all part of rehab.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Challenge 5: Walking Barefoot

Sometimes I think of my right foot as a patient who has been forgotten in a back ward of an old hospital for years.

In the first summer after the stroke, my PT encouraged me to walk on the beach without my brace and without shoes every so often to stimulate my feet. I tried it one or two times, but I gave up after realizing how many challenges I would have to overcome: the weakness in my ankle; the crushing fatigue; getting my shoes and brace off and on with one hand; etc. I also experimented briefly with walking barefoot in the house, until I had a few near misses with cans and knives in the kitchen.

Now my feet are usually are hidden away in thick shoes every day, except for bedtime and naps, and also for leg exercises on the living room rug (my yoga teacher has tried to coax sensation and movement, with some success, from my right toes).

So this was my challenge last week: to putter around the house barefoot for more than an hour. With bare feet, I unloaded the dishwasher; made lunch; sorted papers between the pile in the kitchen and the pile in the dining room.

It was tiring. Partly because spasticity can make feel as if I will topple over without the steadying influence of my shoes. But mostly, my right foot and toes seem to be terribly disoriented and confused. They ask: is the floor really cold? Or is that pain? Are all the toes pointing up or lying flat? And where, exactly, am I?

I know I have to walk barefoot more often to stimulate my foot. But right now, it feels like an act of faith, rather than an exercise.

Thursday, April 18, 2013


I am so sad about the events at the Marathon.

I will resume my blogging next week.

If you can, please join me in giving to this charity: The One Fund.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Challenge 4: Highway Driving

I'm feeling more confident about my driving now, but still I haven't done much highway driving. I've done a few three- or four-minute trips, but I wanted to go further.

Specifically, I wanted to drive to Lincoln, a town that's about 15 minutes west from my house. I can imagine Robert Frost composing poetry while strolling through the woods and the small, rolling orchards of Lincoln (although I'm guessing that he--like me--wouldn't be able to afford a house there). The landscape is beautiful, but the bigger draw for me is chance to visit farm animals there. I used to take the kids to see the cows, pigs, and sheep at a community farm, but I confess: it was mostly a good excuse to do something that I wanted to do myself anyways.

So I drove in Lincoln and back on Tuesday. Unfortunately, I knew that the driving would be very tiring, so I didn't actually do anything there--I pulled over in a parking lot, rolled down the windows, and breathed deeply for about 5 minutes. And then I turned around and drove home. I'm looking forward to driving there again, and getting out to visit with the animals.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Challenge 3: Personal Landmarks

There's a water tower in my town that looks like the pantheon. It's on top of one of the highest hills in the town, and it's about a half mile from my house. I hadn't walked to the water tower since the stroke.

When my kids were little and I couldn't stand one more trip to the playground, I would trudge up the hill with the kids in the double stroller and go to this small circular park. It has great views of Boston. It also has crabapple trees, which are just right for little kids to climb on, and the grass has tons of dandelions to pick. My kids were also intrigued by the series of manholes in one area of the grass, and we would hop from one manhole cover to the next.

Last Sunday I asked the kids if they were interested in walking up to the water tower. My son--who's acting more like a teenager every day--had other plans: hanging out with his friends, playing Mindcraft, and going to the hardware store with his dad. My daughter--who sometimes begs me to go on a walk--of course had no interest in walking that particular day.

So I walked up there by myself. Afterward I was pretty exhausted. According to my pedometer, I took about 2800 steps. I've been on longer walks, but not by much.

Maybe I can bring grandchildren there one day.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Challenge 2: Banking

Neal and I used to share many of the tasks related to money. Like many people who have aphasia, my math skills were affected. Neal took over all the financial chores after the stroke. My math skills are much better now and I don't have problems handling money on a day-to-day basis, but I still don't do much of the household bookkeeping.

But the other day I realized that I hadn't deposited a check for more than three years, and that banking is a life skill that I needed to reclaim. Since we had some miscellaneous checks at the house, yesterday I endorsed the checks and drove to the ATM. The procedure for depositing checks had changed since the last time I did it. I didn't need to fill out a special envelope now: I fed the checks into the ATM, they were scanned right a way, and I confirmed the amounts. Neal had warned me about the changes, so I was prepared. It wasn't a big deal.

But still, afterwards I had a fleeting sense of disorientation--as if I had just returned home after being in a country for a while where time seems to pass more slowly.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Challenge 1: Planned Spontaneity

On Friday I took my kids on spur-of-the-moment outing to Wilson Farms, a deluxe farm stand that I love. I've been there two or three times since the stroke, but this was the first time I went there with the kids and without another adult to help. I hoped that it could be a short trip with something to please everyone: a talking bird in the greenhouse (kids and me); luscious displays of fruits and vegetables (me);  barn with a few animals (kids); free samples of prepared foods (everyone).

Shopping--especially with kids--can be challenging, with or without a brain injury. Things didn't start out well. On the way there, my daughter was cranky enough that I had to pull over to wait for her to stop whining. Then, when we went into the greenhouse, we learned that the talking bird it had died. And then, my daughter balked at the idea of going into the barn without me (the stairs aren't very accessible). Thankfully, my son went in by himself and was entertained by the animals for a while.

When we went into the main store,  the crowds were in a pre-Easter frenzy. I had to respond to my kids' constant requests for purchases: kids' gardening gloves (no); garden clippers (no); pink tulips (no); daisies (yes); 3 lbs of strawberries (no, just 1 lb); a pint of blackberries (no); cheese (yes). My daughter was also in a frenzy about finding free samples. We came back about $25 poorer, with provisions we probably could have lived without.

In the end, it wasn't a disaster, but wasn't a great triumph, either.  But it did get me closer to my real goal: having spontaneous adventures, especially with my kids. These days I tend to plan every outing meticulously, because it's such a fine line between something that might bring joy to my family and me--or bring me to the point of utter exhaustion and frustration. But at some point, I would love to be able to get out without much preparation--and go.

The flowers I bought weren't very happy that I was
so spontaneous that I forget to put water in the vase first

Friday, March 29, 2013

Four Weeks, Eight Challenges

When I meet someone for the first time now, I'm not sure if they know that I had a stroke. They see that I have a limp and use a cane; some people might notice that I’m a little slow in answering questions; or another person might notice that I don’t use my right arm much. But I think people don’t always realize that I have a brain injury.

But I actually want to tell them about the strange journey I’ve been on over these three years. If I’m having a bad day, I might want  some sympathy and understanding for all my disabilities, especially the invisible ones: the fatigue; the spasticity; the tendency to be easily  overwhelmed--I could go on and on. (And I want some sympathy for my husband, too.)

On good days, I want to tell them about how much progress I’ve made, and continue to make. For instance, just since the new year, I drove myself to PT and back; I’ve tried several new recipes for dinner, instead of the old tired recipes that I’ve been using since 2010; I’ve taken my kids to the doctors, by myself--to name a few accomplishments.

So I’m going to make a series of posts about my recent “firsts”--things that I just started to do for the first time since the stroke. I’m also going to challenge myself to try new things on a faster schedule.  And then, of course, write about it. My goal is to challenge myself twice a week for four weeks.

I always think that I’m pushing myself a lot, but I know that having a public deadline can make things happen faster. Wish me luck.

Thursday, March 14, 2013


Last week a friend invited me to a get-together at her new home. I was feeling adventurous, so I drove myself. It was the first time since I got my driver’s license back that I drove to a place I’ve never driven to before. It was very nice to be self-sufficient. I even had the mental and physical energy to remember to stop and get some flowers on the way there.

But driving myself is also bittersweet. For almost three years, I’ve relied on rides from so many people: friends, family, neighbors, writing group members, fellow church-goers, friends of my parents, caregivers--to name a few. I know that for the people who have gave me rides, it has not been without cost: most people have many other commitments that compete for their time. But for me, it has been one of the unexpected gifts for me of the stroke. Without that space in time that cars can provide, I would have missed out on so many interesting stories. People have talked to me about their the work projects; their own family dramas; the political causes they're dedicated to; their pet peeves; their personal histories that they wouldn’t divulge with children around. There are so many corners in people's lives I wouldn’t have discovered without my years of forced dependence.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Words to Say It

A little more than a year after stroke, my therapies were winding down. I needed to try something new, maybe a class. Several family members and friends suggested seated Tai Chi or yoga classes. I tried to be enthusiastic.

People assumed that I would be more comfortable in a chair. It was hard for me to move, right? But when I finally went to the gentle, i.e. seated, yoga class, I knew it was the wrong thing. I stopped going.

At that point in my recovery, there were still so many thoughts that I couldn’t articulate because of my aphasia. But there were other thoughts I couldn’t say because my vocabulary, even pre-stroke, didn’t include many neurological terms. I was lucky that I had heard the word aphasia before the stroke, thanks to writer Oliver Sacks. But the word proprioception--and the concept--were still new to me. After the stroke, it took me a long time to figure out that the general feeling of loss on my right side was different than say, the numbness I had felt from local anesthesia at the dentist’s office. In fact, I’m still mulling over the difference between lack of sensation and lack of proprioception.

So I couldn't explain that it felt precarious to do exercises in a chair, especially the flimsy chairs at the yoga class. Not because of balance issues, really, but because I didn’t know where the right side of the chair--or my body--was.

About a year ago, I found a great yoga teacher. She comes to my house about once a month. Most of the standing poses are beyond me, although sometimes my teacher cajoles me into trying a standing pose with the kitchen table to stabilize me. But usually, we work on the living room floor. When I need to stand up, I do have enough strength to haul myself up with mostly with my left leg, or  using the couch as a prop.

But I like being on the floor. There aren't any edges.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Coming Soon: "After Words," a Film about Aphasia

If you're reading my blog, you probably know what aphasia is, and how devastating it can be. But so many people have never heard the word. Raising awareness of aphasia--what it is, and how it can radically change a person's life--is important. It will help more people to get the support they need to lead a productive life.

So I'm really happy that After Words, a film about living with aphasia, is airing on many PBS stations, including WGBH in Boston. It will air in Boston on February 3 (Super Bowl Sunday) at 3pm. If  your local PBS station isn't on the schedule that the National Aphasia Association has published here, ask your station to air it.

Please watch it, talk about it with friends, and use the word "aphasia." Talk about how Gabby Giffords has it. Or how common it is: more than 1 million Americans are estimated to have it, and countless family members are affected, too.

In addition to the PBS showings, there are two special screenings in Boston (March 3) and New York (April 10). The screenings include conversations with cast members, the directors, producer, and (in New York only), Oliver Sacks. 

Full disclosure: I'm in it; my kids are in it; many of my friends from the Aphasia Community Group of Boston are in the film; and one of my former speech pathologists, the amazing Jerry Kaplan, is one of the directors. 

Here's a trailer from the film.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Out of the Comfort Zone

Right after the stroke, I was warned repeatedly to be very, very careful. So I was. I went without falling at all for more than six months after the stroke. When I did finally fall, it was a very gentle plop in my backyard. I've stumbled some other times, but I've always been able to catch myself.

But since October, I've fallen three times. The last time was Monday, when I got up early (very unusual for me) and decided to go outside to get the newspaper with my PJs and  robe on. As I was climbing up the four steps up to the porch, with the newspaper clutched under my right arm, I suddenly lost my balance and fell sideways. I landed beside the steps, into a pile of plastic shovels. I broke my daughter's play shovel. I got a scratches on my right hand knuckles. My dignity was hurt. I was shook up.

Sometimes a little thing can mess up my balance: an especially windy or cold day; an outfit I haven't worn much; two steps that don't have a place to grab on to; holding something I usually don't hold. That day, I was challenged by all these things. (That, and my lack of coffee.) Usually I'm meticulous about preparing myself, but I didn't do that on Monday. I just wanted to get the damned newspaper.

My husband and I agree that, in some ways, it's a sign of progress: I'm  pushing at the edges of my comfort zone. I just hope that I can get through this phase of my recovery without any more serious injuries than scratched knuckles.

Monday, January 14, 2013

What Kind of Mother Am I?

I walk to pick up my kids at school most days. It's tricky to walk and have a conversation at the same time for me, so I go very slowly  and lean on my cane at lot. But on the weekend,  I try to squeeze in a walk alone. That way, I can concentrate completely on my gait: am I walking evenly? Can I push myself to walk faster? Am I remembering to swing my right arm?

But even on weekends, sometimes the only way I can get a walk is to have my seven-year-old daughter tagging along. She chatters on, making me wish that my walking could be more automatic, so that I could have a real conversation with her. But instead, I'm rather stern: please don't walk right beside me, I say, because there isn't room for me, my cane, and you; please don't walk right in front of me, I say, so I won't trip.

A few weeks ago she accompanied me, and I strongly suggested that she walk behind me on the narrow sidewalk, so I could concentrate. So she did, but she still kept a running commentary.

"Oh Mommy," I heard her voice, " you're not using your cane much! Good job, Mommy!"

A few steps later, she commented,

"Mommy, you're walking almost normally!" Then she observed a little bit more.

"Actually, Mommy, you walk a little like a robot."

Almost normal mother. Robot mother. Watched mother.